The Yankees have signed Rafael Soriano to a three-year contract, the team announced today. The deal is believed to be worth $35MM over three years, and will allow the player to opt out after either of the first two years.The Scott Boras client will make $11.5MM if he opts out after year one and $21.5MM if he opts out after year two. The contract does not include a no-trade clause.
The deal comes just days after GM Brian Cashman said that he would not surrender his first round pick to sign a free agent. The Rays will receive New York's first round pick (31st overall) as well as a supplemental first round pick as compensation for their loss.
The 31-year-old Soriano was the top closer on the market, but he's going to have to serve as Mariano Rivera's setup man with the Yankees. He pitched to a 1.73 ERA with 8.2 K/9 and just 2.0 BB/9 in 62.1 innings last year, the second straight season he's avoided the disabled list. He's battled elbow trouble in the past, including Tommy John surgery back in 2004. Over the last four seasons, Soriano has struck out 9.8 batters per nine innings while walking 2.7 per nine. Although his home run rate has improved in recent years (0.7 HR/9 since 2008), he's an extreme fly ball pitcher (just 31% ground balls in his career). That could give him some problems in hitter friendly Yankee Stadium.
At an $11.67MM average annual value, Soriano will be the fifth highest paid reliever in baseball, trailing only Rivera, Brad Lidge, Francisco Rodriguez, and Joe Nathan. Jonathan Papelbon's eventual 2011 salary could also factor into that equation soon enough. It's a healthy raise from the $7.5MM Soriano earned in 2010, which came after he accepted the Braves offer of arbitration last offseason. With Billy Wagner already on board, it pushed Atlanta to trade him to Tampa.
SI.com's Jon Heyman adds that the Yankees still have about $20MM to spend before they hit their 2011 payroll limit (Twitter link). That's plenty for a right-handed outfield bat and starting pitching, even if they wait for a salary dump situation to arise during the season.